Category Archives: The turf trade

Quadrupling Kerry’s canals

I thought there was only one canal in Co Kerry, but there were three more at Lixnaw. They’re still to be seen and they have interesting associations.

Thanks to Ewan Duffy of Industrial Heritage Ireland for the tip-off.

Transport history

Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution quotes an interesting extract today from a new book on the history of India:

…the most important technological change for the transportation of heavy goods in nineteenth-century India was not the arrival of the quick, expensive railway: it was the move from pack animals to carts pulled by two or four beasts in the first half of the century.  This was the process historian Amalendu Guha calls ‘the bullock cart revolution’.  Throughout the 1860s and 1870s railways found it impossible to compete not only with bullock carts, but also with human-powered river transport.  Rowing boats along the Ganges and Jamuna won a price war with the railways over the cost of transporting heavy goods.  Vessels powered by human beings were able to undercut steam vessels elsewhere.

There is a description of the book (which I have now ordered) here.

How did transport in Ireland compare? In the first half of the century, road transport using Scotch carts dominated carrying. Within about 55 miles of Dublin, eastward of Mullingar on the Royal and Tullamore on the Grand, canal carriers did little business except in the heaviest goods: the Scotch carts, each drawn by one horse and carrying about one ton, dominated the trade. But the Scotch carts relied on there being good roads, which in many cases required government intervention of one sort or another.

But rowing boats do not seem to have been serious contenders on Irish inland waterways. They might have been used on the Shannon, to tow canal boats, and the idea was mooted, but nothing seems to have come of it. The problem, I suspect, was that there was little or no trade: when it did arrive, it did so because the steamers created it. And the capital cost of a large pulling boat might have been beyond the means of a small-scale entrepreneur who might have been able to afford a cart.

On the other hand, vessels powered by sail retained certain markets, including traffic across the Irish Sea, until the middle of the twentieth century.

Much about Irish transport history remains unclear to me.

Irish waterways in context

More than 25,000 barges were being used on Britain’s inland waterways in the middle decades of the nineteenth century.

Philip S Bagwell The Transport Revolution from 1770 B T Batsford Ltd, London 1974

I wonder what the figure for Ireland was. My guess is that, including small turf boats and cots, it was probably less than one tenth of the British figure.

Horses for towing? Bullocks!

The Colthurst canals.

Shannon Estuary murders

Limerick, May 16. Piracy

About six weeks since, a most daring act of piracy and murder was supposed to have been committed in Mr Parker’s turf-boat, which was lying at anchor near Ahanish, in this river. Tuesday, in consequence of private information, a search was made on one of the islands convenient to where the vessel lay at the time of the piracy, where the three unfortunate men who composed the crew of said boat were discovered in a pit, with their throats cut from ear to ear, their heads and bodies much lacerated, and a large rope bracing them together. The anchor, cables, and parts of the rigging, were found secreted in another part of the island.

Evening Mail 29 May 1818. From the British Newspaper Archive run by Findmypast Newspaper Archive Limited, in partnership with the British Library.

Dublin canal murders

At an early hour yesterday morning, in consequence of a dispute between the people belonging to some of the turf boats on the Grand Canal, two young men, citizens, and one of a couple of the military who went to their assistance from the Canal Guard, were murdered, having been thrown into the Canal. Several persons have been taken up and committed to prison.

Saunders’s News-Letter 15 May 1804. From the British Newspaper Archive run by Findmypast Newspaper Archive Limited, in partnership with the British Library.

Limerick floods 1814

Limerick, Dec 1

On Thursday night, or at a very early hour on Friday morning, the most awful and terrific tempest from the south and west, that ever was remembered arose, and continued without intermission until between 11 and 12 o’clock yesterday — the river Shannon swelled to an unprecedented height, with a surf which caused it to overflow the country to an extent never before witnessed; there was no trace of the highest banks upon the river, and they are broken and prostrate every where we have as yet heard of — at the quays in this harbour, the several vessels drove from their moorings, and a large Norway ship, the Pax, a brig, the Caroline, and a sloop, the Elizabeth, were forced beyond Curragour Mills, near Thomond bridge, and with much exertion were saved from injury, by Mess Mallock and Graham, ship builders, with their men — the Messery, of Liverpool, at O’Neil’s quay, laden with rock salt, is thrown on her beam ends.

The falling of chimnies has caused several houses to be unroofed; Mr Bodkin’s family, in Bridge Street, were providentially saved, as the next chimney fell on the roof, which was blown in, destroyed the different rooms, and though a child slept in the attic story, and went through the two under floors, it was unhurt. Several trees have been torn up, garden walls blown down, and the whole of the parapet, from the House of Industry to the Revenue Building overturned. A new house in Glentworth Street was completely levelled with the ground. Thomond-bridge miraculously withstood the flood; the whole bridge was covered at one time, and the parapet presented the appearance of a wall built across the river.

We really fear that the accounts from the coast will be dreadful. Yesterday morning, between eight and nine o’clock, two sail boats were lost between Foynes Island and Ahanish, one was loaded with butter, and had nine passengers, all of whom were drowned; the other a turf-boat, the property of Mr O’Keefe, with three men on board, one of whom (Hurley) perished, and the other two were driven on shore by the violence of the waves, and were saved.

On Tuesday evening a large boat belonging to Denis Malcahy of this town, was driven on the rocks, off the shore of Kilkeran battery, the tide at the same time setting in with such rapidity that the boat filled with water, and one of the crew threw himself overboard and swam ashore, leaving two men and a boy on the wreck; when in this awful moment, one of the workmen belonging to Messrs Mackey and Ryan, plunged into the water and swam to the boat — made a raft of her oars and spars, to which he fastened a rope, and swam off to the length of it — the remaining crew clung round the raft, and in the presence of a number off shore, were towed in, and thus saved from a watery grave. Thomas Gleeson, a mason, was the person who so humanely ventured his life to save that of others, which Providence enabled him to effect.

Caledonian Mercury 24 December 1814. From the British Newspaper Archive run by Findmypast Newspaper Archive Limited, in partnership with the British Library.

Waterways Ireland draft heritage plan

Boogie on over to the WI website for a copy of the WI draft heritage plan, and send WI your comments by 6 November 2015.

WI staff have put a lot of work into this and consulted various people, including me. I argued for a more activist approach, with more history and less about communities, and I would have let the twitchers and other nature-lovers look after themselves and their little feathered friends …

Birds hijacking facility at Athlone intended for (and paid for by) humans

Freeloading birds hijacking facility at Athlone intended for (and paid for by) humans. And who’s going to have to pay for cleaning it? Humans, that’s who. Human rights, that’s what we need …

… but I quite appreciate that Waterways Ireland has to be polite to all these people and can’t disobey the law, no matter how insane the legislation is.

But I digress. Get some comments in, preferably plugging industrial and transport heritage and economic history.

Chains at the Black Bridge

It seems that the city edition of the Limerick Leader dated Saturday May 16 2015 carries a story saying that funding has been approved for the repair of the Black Bridge at Plassey. I can’t find the story on the Leader‘s website and I can’t find anything about it anywhere else [there is a limit to the amount of my life I am willing to spend trying to find anything on the Limerick Council website] except on the Leader‘s FaceTweet page, where I can expand the city edition front page.

There is a photo of several councillors, which of course is wonderful: no day is wasted if it offers an opportunity of looking at a photo of local councillors, especially important ones with chains.

From what I can read of the text, it seems that “councillors in City East” [which is not one of the Limerick districts listed here] are willing to spend €50,000 “to start work to make the walkway safe again”. And they hope that Clare County Council, the University of Limerick and Waterways Ireland will “also row in behind the project”.

Now, half a loaf is better than no bread, and €50,000 is better than a poke in the eye from a blind horse, but it’s not going to go very far towards the cost of repairing the Black Bridge. I don’t known whether it would even cover the cost of a full survey.

I’m sure that Waterways Ireland would be delighted to help, if the Department of Fairytales hadn’t raided its coffers to pay for Saunderson’s Sheugh. I have reason to believe that the university was willing to help — and that Clare County Council was not. I submitted a Freedom of Information request to the university, asking it for [recent] records relating to the Black Bridge. The university gave me three extracts from meetings of the Limerick Smarter Travel Steering Group:

9 January 2013
Funding not in place for Black Bridge

21 November 2013
Black Bridge: UL indicated that funding may be available from UL. LST [Limerick Smarter Travel] has indicated funding in the order of €100,000. UL may be able to mach [sic] this. Request for funding to be made formally to UL by LCCC and to include surveys and reports on bridge to date.

18 September 2014
RR said UL have set aside €100,000 towards Black bridge refurbishment but will need matched funding from LA [presumably local authority]. Black bridge will require a detailed study to identify what repair work will need to be carried out, also an AA study will be required, and proper consents from ABP [An Bord Pleanála?]. Funding currently not available from LA.
PON spoke to Clare Co Co. No funding available from them.
PC Department will not fund a pedestrian bridge.
RR can we look for alternative funding options, UL will ring fence for the moment.

An AA study is, I think, an Appropriate Assessment, a sort of employment creation scheme for bird-watchers who can read European directives [and sooner them than me].

The point to be remembered here is that Limerick County Council leased the bridge and undertook to keep it in repair; there is no obligation on Waterways Ireland, Clare County Council or the University of Limerick to spend a penny on it. The two parties on whom lies the responsibility for repairing the bridge are the Limerick Council and the Department of Finance, which latter has the power, under the lease, to do the work and charge it to the council. That would be a better use of its time and money than an unnecessary and intrusive footbridge in the middle of Limerick.

Riverfest in Limerick

Riverfest is an annual, er, happening in Limerick. I don’t know much about it: I’ve never been because I dislike both crowds and festivals and it would take something remarkably interesting to outweigh my dislike and persuade me to attend any part of the thing. I took notice of this year’s event only because I wanted to find out what streets would be closed to traffic; the festival organisers did not, alas, think to provide a map showing the closures.

I have only two other comments on the event:

  • the brochure [PDF] mentions a workshop called “Craft a River” but doesn’t say what, or indeed where, it is
  • in a city whose history is so intertwined with that of the food industry, and which has, in the Milk Market, the best Irish market outside Cork, it seems ludicrous to import a “continental market” instead of showcasing local producers.

But I acknowledge that I am not really entitled to comment; Brian Leddin, on the other hand, has a better informed view.